What is The Self?  

Posted by Plato Greybeard

What is this thing I call my "self"? This question has been a major subject of interest since humanity first began philosophizing. It continues to intrigue us because, while there are many different ways of answering the question, the "self" is still a mystery.

Philosophically, one might consider that, at the core, one's "self" is the individual's "soul,” or "spirit" or "the essence of life itself." If we embrace this definition, we must pursue the meaning of the key words just used. This philosophical approach is not entirely satisfactory since it raises more questions than it provides answers.

The sociological approach means that the individual's "self" would be defined by how he/she is seen by others. If others see me as "a good person“, “a bad person” or any other descriptive term, then that is who I must be. Countering this concept is the belief that, "what other people think of me is none of my business.”

Psychologically, we are free to define our "self" any way we choose. We can see ourselves as primarily a parent, spouse, child, entrepreneur or bank robber. It is important to realize that when we define ourselves by such terms, our behaviors are going to be consistent with our self-perception. This would mean that we can change our "self" simply by looking at ourselves differently.

Physiologically, we might consider the "self" as that part of the physical body that holds the individual's consciousness. This, too, is unsatisfactory because it would imply that one who is unconscious due to injury, or even sleep, would lose their self-hood. This definition is also faulty because it fails to distinguish the "self" from the brain. It seems that the "self" is contained in the body, but is far more than the body itself.

Many have asked, Where does the "self" come from? Why does it exist? What happens to it after death? Think about these questions for a moment. Is it important to find an answer in order to live a well-lived life?